Thursday, July 11, 2013

Abstract art and vanilla music

This post has nothing at all to do with this blog, but since I've included a section called "Commentary" in my Table of Contents, I feel free to do just that.

Some years ago while teaching at UMass-Dartmouth, I became acquainted with a tenured art history professor who would routinely state that he  knew "nothing about music." Imagine if a university-professor-musician made the same statement! Imagine attending a "music appreciation" class to find no corollaries made to the visual arts. Imagine a musician talking about Debussy and Ravel while boldly stating that he or she knew nothing about Monet and Degas!

This anecdote came back to me when I visited a local non-profit art gallery/performance space today. The organization's website states that it exists "to promote and develop an appreciation of the visual and the performing arts."




The current art exhibit showcased three artists in a show titled "Abstraction: Pattern, Gesture, Spirit." The works ranged from brightly colored illustration-like abstracts to very dark mixed media creations that incorporated wax, oil, and, among other things, fiber. 

I initially remarked that I didn't understand why artists charge by the size. Why would, for instance, a 4x6 painting cost $2500 while a 1x1 painting cost $250? Does size imply greater effort or quality? I see this sort of pricing regularly, and it not only shows the ignorance of the person putting the price on the art (the artist? the gallery owner?), it also does a disservice to a public that is attempting to appreciate the art regardless of size. 

But more to the point of this post is that fact that none of the art presented reflects a visual mainstream. This was true of the last exhibit I saw at this gallery as well, and I suspect that it's true of any of the exhibitions. Long ago, we came to expect that visual artists could do whatever they wish with a canvas and that we would respect it as art.

I don't have a problem with this. I'm a very educated musician, and, in turn, I have a broad understanding of the historical and current contexts of the performing and visual arts.

What I do have a problem with is the performing arts side of this non-profit. What would be the musical ancillary of the visual arts presented at this venue? I don't know if I can answer that specifically, but I can sure as hell tell you that it's not the current lineup of vanilla flavored neo-folk, rock, and similar genres that's being presented

I don't want to take issue with the musicians and their offerings. With ticket prices from $20 to $50 and even $75 (at least as I write this), I'm pretty sure they're making their fees. But why is there such a strong disconnect between the visual arts and the aural arts? This is shameful, and a non-profit that is developing an "appreciation of the visual and the performing arts" for the community needs to do a better job at showcasing music and musicians who are underrepresented. 

For a long time, I've argued that classical music is the true alternative music--at least today. But forget about my argument. Where's the jazz? Where's the improvisation? Where's the rap? And, above all, where are the composers of music that would reflect the artistic expression present in the paintings I saw?

This is a gross curatorial lapse, and it's not limited to this venue. I've seen this happen over and over again. I'm sick of it, and I encourage you fellow musicians to make your voices heard when you encounter this sort of thing.


For my next topic, maybe I'll talk about why audiences are willing to pay $100 for a pre-concert dinner and then complain about $20 concert tickets.